Monday, February 22, 2016  |  0 Comment(s)  |   Email   Print

Resident Q&A: Terry Richard

by Ryan Mackin

I had the pleasure of speaking with Terry Richard over the phone about her involvement with PUSH and the revitalization of Buffalo's West Side. Here's what she had to say!

 

How long have you lived in the community on the West Side, and what has your involvement with the PUSH community been?

I’ve lived here for 10 years. I’m from New York City where I lived most of my life, and moved to Buffalo in ’04. From 2004 until now, there’s been a huge, huge change [in the community]. Coming from New York, growing up in Brooklyn, then moving to Grant Street in Buffalo, I literally felt like OK… is this the Twilight Zone? I was from a place where I was used to life and action, people hustling and bustling. It didn’t matter if it was seven in the morning or midnight. It was always alive in New York City. The few people I did see outside in Buffalo seemed like they were floating around, it made me feel like I entered the Twilight Zone. No one was rushing. Where are the people? Where are the lights? So once I saw that, right away my mind was going: If I have to live here and raise my family here, something has to change. That was my initial impression coming from a place like New York City.



So you saw this environment and realized this is where you have to live, so you might as well participate in some way?
 

When I was in New York, I was a general member of a tenant group, so my landlord hated me, he hid every time he saw me. I will complain and I will talk loud enough in the lobby so the rest of the tenants can hear! So when I moved I thought well, let me see what kind of organizations are around, see what they’re doing in the community or for the community. But at the time I didn’t see much going on here. Then I rented for 6 months and then bought my house, and I definitely felt planted in the community. I just happened to come upon this article in one of the local newspapers about these two young men who were trying to revitalize and rebuild the community by offering sustainable housing and doing some homegrown gardens. I’m originally from the Caribbean so I’m used to organic food and having my garden. My mom was a huge gardener, so I thought I definitely have to get to know these guys. The rest is basically history. I’ve been a part of PUSH since then and a board member for the past 5 years.

 

Being with PUSH since the beginning, already living in the PUSH neighborhood, you just kind of lucked out?

When I moved from Brooklyn I had no idea of where I was going, I had never even heard of Buffalo! [laughs] But my other half was telling me about how the houses were really cheap. Coming from New York City where I paid $600 or $700 for a one bedroom apartment, that was enticing enough to me. I was in my 30’s, I was ready for a change. The New York City hustle and bustle just wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I put in my 2 weeks resignation and moved up here. But I’ve always been on the West Side. I had no idea what was good, what was bad, what side was better, what wasn’t, it just happened to be where we ended up.

 

You mentioned the gardening aspect of what PUSH does, sustainable housing, low-income housing too. Are there other specifics that you’ve been particularly involved with? 

PUSH really started out doing the vacant lots. In the beginning I think they chose that because it was a reachable, attainable goal, in a short period of time. My interest was the vacant land issues—it was a way to really reach a goal where you actually see results. My garden on 19th Street was part of the first up-and-coming gardens. If you look back at some of PUSH’s older work that we did, the garden on 19th Street was really my pet project. And then I needed to create a safe place for my kids to play so I was deeply involved in the revitalization of the Massachusetts Avenue Park. I don’t know if you visited the park when you were here.

 

Yes, the Vacant to Vibrant Lawrence site backs up to the basketball courts at the rear of Massachusetts Ave Park, so there’s a direct connection there between V2V and PUSH’s previous work.

Using that park as an example, and looking at the community in general, what did the park look like before, and what does it look and feel like now? Can you paint a picture for me?

Let’s put it this way, it was just a plot of land with a very unsafe playground that was 5 footsteps away from a busy public street. If you went down the slide and slid hard enough, you could end up in the street. There was a lot of garbage, and the City didn’t upkeep that piece of land. We didn’t even call it a park, there was no sign, there was no ownership, it was not inviting. It was a piece of land with a playground. I never took my kids there at that time—seeing the condition of what was supposed to be a City-owned park.

Moving forward a couple years, getting the community together and getting community input, we had copious community meetings where 300 residents would show up, with stations set up where people could work in groups and draw and plan together. So what you see there now as a nice and inviting space, it was really an entire, entire community effort. You’ll never reach all of the people all of the time, but as we know, the majority always wins. So everything there in that park now, the majority of people asked for. We then took what we drew up with a Sharpie to an architect, working beside the City, it took us a while—getting the funding and for the City to get all of their departments involved. All along we kept the community very much involved and engaged, so at the end of it all they would know this is their hard work and they would definitely, definitely appreciate it. Now it doesn’t look like a City park, I call it more a suburban park. It’s more inviting, it’s safe, there’s a shelter with lights, and usable basketball courts.

 

It’s an awesome park. It’s really what a park should be: usable, inviting, safe, kept up. It’s not that it’s immaculate, but it’s nice. It’s realistic.

And it’s been a work in progress. Just keeping the park clean, we try to have Neighborhood Watch and have people chip in even it’s the City’s job. We try to contract with them where we can have someone in the community take care of the park and actually be paid by the City, part of our job creation effort. This works better because they have their schedule where once or twice a month they will clean the park, which just doesn’t work.

Again, it’s a beautiful place now, and we’re still striving to let the neighborhood know—look, you have put a lot of hard work into this. Let’s keep it nice, let’s keep it safe.

Going back, the park also wasn’t a safe place because it had one entrance in, and one entrance out, for a large park. If you went in the back of the park to play basketball and something happened, you had no way out. So now, with the way we designed it, we created an exit and entrance on Lawrence and on Winter Street too. So now there’s not just the one entrance and exit on Massachusetts Ave.

 

That’s interesting because sometimes residents want to wall properties off and put fencing around everything, because there are issues in the neighborhoods of people cutting through. So it’s interesting to hear you say that multiple entrances make this space safer.

It not only made it safer, Ryan, it also eliminates that problem. Because we face that problem also, so why not just create permanent access to save yourself time and money if people are going to do it anyhow.

We’ve had stuff happen in the park, but because the neighbors have a great view to the access, neighbors were able to call police or report to the Parks Department because it’s not enclosed.

 

Was PUSH involved intimately in that revitalization, or one of many organizations working to make it better?

No, we were the park! We looked for the funding, we found unused park funding in the City, so we were able to get Phase I done moving the playground back to a safe area. We did the drawings, we paid for the architect work, we did the presentation, we met with the City. It’s been about 5 years and we still meet with the City Parks Department once a month, because there is still work to be done. There were other problems that came up, like the park did not have the proper drainage system, so once it rained you could not utilize the space for days at a time until it dried up. It was a puddle of mud.

The 5 or 6 of us took on the City with the name of PUSH behind us. It was just us holding feet to the fire, we were not about to let up. It’s one of the only parks for some distance, smack in the middle of the West Side. We need this park in our neighborhood, and we needed something done about it.

 

Well, you’re called PUSH, right? You can’t stop pushing. 

Right, exactly. [laughs]

 

Do you see residents using Vacant to Vibrant sites in a beneficial way? And do you have any concerns with how they will be used?

Yes and yes. In a neighborhood like this one, or whatever neighborhood, you will always have the appreciators and the depreciators I call them. So, people who will always use the space in a positive way, and the ones who will not use it in a positive way. My main and biggest concern with the Vacant to Vibrant spaces is the maintenance of it. That’s my biggest issue that we’ve run into with the City when we try to bring some vibrancy into some of their lots. The biggest thing is the upkeep. Who is going to upkeep these spaces so they can continue looking beautiful?

 

Luckily we have an organization like PUSH to help with maintenance in Buffalo. But I think this is such a big issue, maybe the most important.

Definitely, with Massachusetts Ave Park, it is a public and City park but we have a lot of control over that park. We have the keys to the electricity box, we have the ability to book seasonal sporting events. We still have a lot of control, people just call it the PUSH Park.

It’s a topic everyone kind of gets quiet about, but it’s a waste of time and energy if the spaces are going to be built but not going to be kept up. It’s an ongoing work in progress, but part of solving that problem is really keeping the community involved. Not just inviting them to a meeting, but having them build and plant and having them involved hands on. I’ve seen where that gives them more respect for the space and look out for people vandalizing so they are the ones saying this is for the community to enjoy not to destroy.

 

One last question. What do you envision, big or small, for the PUSH community and West Side of Buffalo in the near or distant future? What do you want to see happen or be a part of happening?

I guess my biggest vision is more home ownership. I know we are in the business in rehabbing and doing rentals, but I go back to my belief that the more people are invested in something, the better they will treat it. We are developing, we are building sustainable housing. You can change the look of a neighborhood, but the people are a whole different story to work on. Especially in communities that have been beaten up for so long and given false hope for so long, it’s a constant struggle to really turn those mentalities around. We’ve have conversations to really train our tenants and members in the community by offering home ownership and finance classes, really train them so they can become the home owners in the future. The way the West Side is right now, and in many neighborhoods, if you don’t own your home then you have lost a lot of the community power. You can be easily displaced. PUSH can only do so much in space and time.

So I would like to see more home ownership amongst people who are in the community, I’d like to see more training of other people who are renting. This way the neighborhood is more stable, and it is more respected and cared for by the people in the community. A lot of times the caring is brought out in people if they are actually the home owner, caring about the bigger picture and the little every day things. I would like to have my neighbors longer than a year or a couple of months, not have all new neighbors come in every year.

 

You’ve given me so much to think about and write about, thank you so much. This is the best part of my job and a great way to start my day.

Thank you, I’m happy we got the opportunity to connect and help out. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak about my organization that I love and adore so much. PUSH is always willing to help and to teach, to help develop other communities in any way we can.

 

I’m a believer. Thank you so much.

You’re welcome, have a good day.

 

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